What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

20 August 2015

What Not to Say

I promise I was already planning this post before I read Rachel Ward's excellent piece, "I’m Sorry I Didn’t Respond to Your Email, My Husband Coughed to Death Two Years Ago," (don't click if you don't like to read sweary things!!), but this isn't going to be a lot like that anyway. She's in a space that I'm not up to yet, although reading that gave me a lot of hope for the next 18 months.

If I lit a candle for every weirdo thing
someone's said to me... well, I'd have
to call the fire department.
Instead! I have a collection of weird things people say in times of grief. Humans have a hard time with loss, even though we know it's an inevitable part of being alive. And despite there being hundreds of books and websites and blog posts telling us what not to say, dumb things will tumble out of anyone's mouth in times of stress.

So! I'm here to add to the cacophony with my own Cheeky twist on what not to say. Obviously, as with so many things, grief is idiosyncratic, so your mileage may vary. (And yes, these are all things I've really heard, some of them multiple times. I'm not making this nonsense up.)

1. "He's in a better place."

I don't care. Hawaii is also a better place, but I wouldn't want him going there and leaving me behind, either.

And the second is like unto it:

2. "It's comforting to know that he's with Jesus."

Well, he was with Jesus here, too. And it's not that comforting when I'd much rather he be alive and in my house instead of playing laser tag with the angels or whatever he's getting up to these days.

3. "He's still with you."

This one is kind of tricky, because he believed very strongly that our loved ones who have departed are still hovering round. I've never been able to embrace this belief as much as he did. What's more, I'm not sure that I like the idea that he's standing around watching me feel sorry for myself, or even worse, having fun without him. I'm sure this is idea is helpful to some, though, so that's why I call it tricky.

4. "You're so lucky you don't have children."

Let me say first: Yes, part of me is glad I don't have to get kids through the loss of their father. But really, why would you say such a thing? I lived with the grief of infertility for ten years, followed by the sudden loss of my husband before either of us reached 40. Yeah, I FEEL SO LUCKY RIGHT NOW. Let's go to Vegas and see how my luck holds out!

Just, no. Don't say anything if you can't do better than that.

5. "You're free now."

Get. Out. And turn in your humanity card before you go.

6. "Did you guys know he was sick?" or "Was this a surprise?"

If you don't know the answer to this question before you ask, it's probably none of your business. I honestly got asked this so many times that I started telling people that a pulmonary embolism is an acute condition that can happen to anyone at any time, which is not 100% true, but usually gave the questioner reason to ponder his or her own mortality, preferably somewhere I wasn't.

(By the way: yes, being ungracious is part of the grieving process. Also a key part of my personality.)

7. "How are you?" or "How are you, really?"

Okay, y'all. This is so well-intentioned, so it's hard to fuss, but I will anyway. There are a limited amount of people in anyone's circle who can ask this question and expect it to be answered with grace. (And I can tell you that most of mine have already gone there. If you haven't asked this one yet--don't.) Err on the side of caution. If it's not one of your best friends, skip it. They're not going to tell you, or at least won't want to tell you.

Don't worry, I'm not going to leave you hanging. Instead, here's what to say:

1. "Please feel free to text/call/Facebook me."

Now, I don't recommend this willy-nilly. Obviously, there needs to be some sort of consideration of how good of friends you already were--this is not a helpful thing coming from casual acquaintances.

2. "What can I bring you?" 

For about five days, my answer was "Peanut M&Ms," but that's partly because my sneaky father kept eating the peanut M&Ms that people brought me.

3. "Can I go to the bank/supermarket/library/etc. for you?"

Yes. Yes, you can.

4. "Do you want to go to (fun thing you guys usually do together)?"

Please, please don't stop asking. One day, the answer will be 'yes' again. Don't give up or be offended if the answer is 'no' for a while. Please.

5. Sharing a favourite memory or something you liked or appreciated about the departed person is always welcome.

Note: this means stories like "most embarrassing moment" or "something horrible he did to me when we are kids" are probably not welcome. I'm pretty easygoing and have a good sense of humour, but if you start to tell me a story like that about Chadwick it will probably end badly. Keep those for your own chuckles. Maybe someday I'll be ready to hear them, but not yet.

6. "I care about you."

Good for all seasons.

I know there are horror stories out there. Let's hear it--what's a really stupid thing (or really smart thing) someone has said to you in a time of crisis?


Gary Greene said...

Well put, Su.

Emma C. said...

"You're so lucky you don't have children."

WHAT. I... am at a loss for words.

Su Wilcox said...

Emma, it was someone you know. Believe me, you'd've been even more horrified if you'd been there.

Anonymous said...

This post seriously rocks! I like everything about it...because people say some seriously stupid things...and it helps everyone to read it in black and white from someone who is going through a difficult time.

Here is one I got (after miscarrying my baby ... 4th pregnancy and 3 healthy boys in our household): it must have been a little girl who saw 3 boys and decided going straight to heaven was a better option. :/ ???????

And then...after my 5th pregnancy ended in miscarriage, the following was said to my husband (who happens to be married to the one who owned the above comment): enough already...you already have 3 healthy boys.

And...that's all for today folks :)


Su Wilcox said...

Yes! I have a very dear friend who suffered several miscarriages in between births #3 & #4, and she heard so much stuff along the same lines. Also, "Maybe God is telling you your family is complete." Seriously, some people desperately need to learn that not every thought needs to be spoken aloud.

J E Oneil said...

Those range from insensitive to downright awful. Who says "You're free now" and doesn't think that's problematic?!

Su Wilcox said...

Yeah. The world is full of people whose brains are disconnected from their mouths.

Carolyn Counterman said...

Su, I want to say things, and I want to say the RIGHT things. I'll try to use your template for what the right thing is:

1. Feel free to text/call/Facebook me. I realize our acquaintance is minimal, but I have let you take my minor legal wards on excursions without me. That means we have the strange sort of bond that is quite typical in my life. I am also the type of go-to person that people only text/call/Facebook when they are in crisis/need, so if you want to jump on that bandwagon, there is room for you. If I don't hear from you, I will assume that you have not been deserted by every loved one and living relative in your phone's address book. (That is actually a good thing, so maybe I hope you don't call.)

2. I can bring you peanut M&Ms. My husband and I had pledged a lifetime supply of Peanut M&Ms to Amy Peterson, but she decided to get healthy or something and asked us to stop deliveries. This means that we could probably bring you a jumbo bag or three.

3. School starts tomorrow, which means I might have time to breathe on weekdays. If you have an errand you would like to me to run, please let me know.

4. When your husband died, we put it on our family calendar to ask you out to lunch a few months later, when we figured you would not be getting so many offers. I pushed that back until after we got home from vacation, which was night before last. So if you would like to go to lunch/dinner or some silly type of function where you want to borrow my grandkids, please let us know. We would love to take/send you.

5. I never met or interacted with Chadwick. But I have fond memories of him. I have fond memories of your conversations that you posted on Facebook. I remember how uplifted I was by the way you enjoyed your time with Chadwick, especially at a time when several of my loved ones were going through marriage breakups. Chadwick's life touched mine through you. Kind of a gift that keeps on giving. That is a good thing in my book.

6. I care about you. I had already been drawn in by your wit, but then you spent an afternoon with two of my granddaughters. That day is legend in our family. You are legend. You took an interest in those girls in a way that rarely happens to them. That is the kind of interaction that sustains hope. So I cared about you anyway, but you earned tons of brownie points that afternoon.

Okay, I am waiting for the red pen to come out. How bad did I muck that up?

Vapid Vixen said...

This is actually incredibly helpful for someone like me who NEVER knows what to say so I'll use the old avoidance tactic or give a simple "I'm sorry". Though heartfelt, probably seems completely insincere.

Su Wilcox said...

"I'm sorry" is also good! I didn't include it in the list because I've always thought that one goes without saying. Maybe it doesn't.